When the call came about doing a Mustang for the Editor's Charity Challenge presented by eBay Motors, we knew there would be a lot of ponies to choose from. Our research showed there are typically 900 Mustangs of all types and ages for sale on eBay Motors. There are also literally thousands of performance, replacement, or restoration parts. Assembling the right combination of car, parts, and pieces on time and on budget would definitely be a challenge, but putting this car together provided a lot of fun along the way-and taught us some important lessons.
Looking for LoveWe knew that choosing the right horse would be critical to our success. We could have gone the restomod route with a classic ponycar or chosen a late-model GT with the 4.6L modular motor. Yet, with almost 2.6 million cars produced between 1979 and 1993, we thought a Fox-body with the 5.0L pushrod engine would have more mass appeal. Finding a car in great condition with a power adder and some suspension mods was also important in that it would save time and money.
All the other teams were located in the arid Los Angeles area, so we knew the competition would probably have a lot of rust-free project vehicles to choose from. Near Chicago, we were concerned about corrosion on any car we might find. Transportation costs were also an issue, because we had to bring the vehicle to California for the shootout. All that put us at a disadvantage budget-wise, but we were determined to find a way to make it work.
When we began, the search tools on eBay Motors saved us a lot of time by allowing us to focus on the model years in our immediate vicinity. A late-model Saleen caught our eye, along with a lightweight supercharged notchback, but we decided on this '93 Cobra. Aside from the very limited production Cobra R (just 107 made), these cars represented the high-water mark for Fox-body Mustangs. The car had been kept in a garage all its life and had just over 13,000 miles on the odometer. An added bonus was a Cartech turbo kit with a Precision PT-44 turbo rated at 540 hp. The supporting cast was made up of a four-point roll bar, Griffin radiator, Kenny Brown matrix subframes, and some aftermarket upper/lower control arms. Team Mustang was ready to roll!
Dealing With the BaggageEvery used car you buy comes with issues, and ours was no exception. Constant backfiring, sputtering, cutting off on deceleration and other driveability issues told us the car's stock EEC-IV and the add-on FMU weren't quite on speaking terms with the turbo boost. The car came without an exhaust, and the weak factory brakes had to go. Our first impulse was to throw a bigger turbo on the car and crank up the boost, but with driveability issues staring us in the face, we knew what needed attention the most. Besides, the turbo on the car could already support more power than the stock engine could stand, so without an aftermarket girdle to support the bottom end, we decided to stick with what we had.
Our first goal was to get an exhaust on the car to make it more civilized. The Challenge rules required purchasing nearly everything from eBay, which showed just how broad a spectrum of parts it has. We found a used ATR stainless steel system from a Mustang SVO after just a couple weeks worth of searching. Sound Performance got the system on the car for us, along with a high-flow catalytic converter and a driveshaft safety loop. With a little bit of backpressure, the car was better behaved, but it still needed optimized tuning.
John Meaney of Big Stuff 3 kicked in with Precision Turbo to provide a SEFI engine management system with wideband O2 capability that really saved the day. Ours was a developmental unit that was used to iron out some of the nuances associated with the EEC-IV system, which is why we got it at such a good price. In other words, they used our Mustang as a development car and we got an outstanding EFI system-a great trade in our opinion. Big Stuff 3 and Precision Turbo joined forces as sponsors to get us the engine management system and then tune the car. By the time everything was tweaked, Team Mustang had an exceptionally sweet-running car.
We knew that good brakes would also be vital if we were to have any chance carving corners away from the dragstrip. While the '93 Cobra came with four-wheel disc brakes and 17-inch rims (the only Fox-body to have these), the front 10.84-inch rotors provided anemic stopping power. There were a number of auctions that offered all the parts needed to upgrade to the larger 13-inch front discs found on the later model Cobras. While this necessitated extra expense in going from a four- to a five-lug rim, the benefits were worth it.
Noted road-racing specialist Kenny Brown was less than two hours away from us, so we plugged his name into eBay's search engine and came up with a wide variety of suspension parts, many of which found their way onto the car. We brought Kenny Brown Performance all the parts from eBay we could find. KBP sorted through everything and used the best of what we had.
In the end, we changed or modified nearly everything under the car in one way or another. We also added a pair of excellent Sparco seats and Auto Meter gauges. With some lettering and a little wax, our steed looked ready to battle the best of the Charity Challenge contestants.
Lessons Learned, Memories MadeBy the time we were done, there were more than a few lessons learned that changed not only how we looked at modifying Mustangs, but also how we bought items from eBay. The most lasting memory is that it takes more than throwing money and parts at something to come up with a solid performance package. Mixing and matching parts until you find what works is sort of like starting your own research and development program. That's fine if you have excess time and money, but it's definitely better to be sure that the parts are compatible both with one another and also with the car.
For example, we discovered that the shock and spring kit didn't work with the car. With the springs, the front was too low and the back was too high. Another issue was that the exhaust that was on the car wouldn't fit with the changes made to the rear suspension. The aftermarket lower control arms with the hard polyurethane bushings were more suited for straight-line acceleration than overall handling, which caused a serious oversteer condition during hard cornering. The inner and outer tie-rod ends also had to be changed to fit the new spindles with the later-model Cobra brakes.
While the sum of all these surprises gave us a few detours, the overall plan for the car worked out well. The Big Stuff 3 EFI package gave us a well-mannered car that was optimized for performance, while the turbo gave us as much power on demand as we wanted. The suspension changes and big brakes provided plenty of confidence that the car could more than handle anything the road could throw at it. The car ran, rode, drove, and looked so good, it was tough to let it go.
Looking for and bidding on the parts we needed on eBay provided us with a number of lessons as well. After spending countless hours navigating around the site, we finally realized that searches made with the make, model, and description of the part we wanted helped us zero in quicker than just browsing by year and model. Searching every night for new listings allowed us to jump on the "Buy It Now" before anyone else had a chance at the items we wanted. We also found that adding items to our Watch List in the My eBay section and not bidding until the last possible moment can sometimes keep the price down because you avoid all-out bidding wars early on. We also found that checking a seller's credibility by reviewing their feedback is important for determining the risk factor in a potential purchase.
Building a car in this manner was certainly different from dropping it off somewhere and flashing a credit card. It took time, patience, research, and effort, but when it was all finally said and done, the result was just as satisfying as the process.
FoundationsWhen building a house, you start with the foundation first. Same goes for a car-in this case, that's with a subframe system that stiffens the body structure. Unibody cars are like beer cans that can be easily twisted. We didn't want a difficult-to-control flexi-flyer, so we started with Kenny Brown's Matrix subframe system, strut tower, lower chassis, and rear shock-tower braces. From there, it depends on what direction the builder wants to take the car in terms of performance. The Kenny Brown Track Kit Plus takes care of high-performance street driving, dragstrip use, and open track racing in one package.
A good spring and shock setup came next. Ride quality is a function of matching a good shock absorber with the right spring rate. We've used Bilstein and Koni shocks with great success. These follow the European strategy of less aggressive shock valving. Mustangs do not start with sufficient caster from the factory for performance driving, so caster/camber plates are important, especially if you lower the car. The plates provide a lot more camber adjustability to accommodate new ride heights.
Big Stuff 3
Precision Turbo & Engine
616A S. Main Street Dept MMFF
P.O. Box 425
Kenny Brown Performance
57D Gasoline Alley